Same-day Registration, Provisional Ballots May Be Election Day Options
By Lauren Brown
The Xfinity Center will be open for voting from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. today. A secured ballot dropbox is also located on site, at the edge of parking lot 4B, closest to the stairs.
Maybe you never received the absentee ballot you’d requested. Or you meant to switch your registration from your permanent address to your local one, but didn’t. Or—fess up—you flat-out forgot to register. Now you’re itching to vote.
You may be in luck this Election Day, which the procrastinators and the passed-over in this unusual year might instead consider Correction Day.
The state of Maryland offers three ways for residents to cast their ballots today: by drop box; by traditional in-person voting at their local polling center, with the bonus of same-day registration at sites where they live; and by the little-known and underappreciated provisional ballot.
A provisional ballot is a bona fide ballot set aside for people whose voting eligibility is uncertain. They are all counted, like any other ballots, but later. In Maryland, that tally will start the second Wednesday after the election, in this case, on Nov. 11. Members of TerpsVote, the coalition of students, faculty and staff encouraging the campus community’s participation, said they’ve seen a surge of interest in provisional ballots.
“Just because it has a different name, that doesn’t mean you did anything wrong,” said Sasha Marquez ’21, student co-chair of TerpsVote. “It will be counted, and it’s still a real vote, and your voice will be heard.”
Provisional voters—say, a student registered to vote in Harford County but arriving at the Xfinity Center at UMD—must bring to the polling site their ID and proof of residency; if approved, they can cast their votes in the general presidential election and on the two statewide ballot initiatives, but not congressional or local races or ballot questions.
Maryland residents who haven’t yet registered and wish to cast a ballot can head to their local voting center, show ID providing their residency in that same county, and register immediately. They will be handed a traditional ballot.
It’s possible that this option draws more interest in 2020, as have other methods of voting in this unprecedented election season, held amid a highly contentious presidential race, worries about the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to deliver ballots on time, and the worsening pandemic, which led to a drastically reduced number of polling sites because of safety concerns. Maryland voters have shown a dramatic spike in interest in participating even before Election Day, with more than 1.6 million registered voters requesting absentee ballots by the Oct. 20 deadline, and the first day of early voting in the state drawing a record-breaking turnout of 161,000.
At the University of Maryland, a recent campus poll found 84% of student respondents planned to participate in the election. Alison Barlow, staff co-chair of TerpsVote, said she’s seen students’ increased interest. They are more engaged in this election than any in her decade of working at the university.
“I’m seeing so many more students following through with their voting plan than I have in the past,” she said. “There are some students who were going to vote anyway, but there are students now acknowledging the role of being a citizen.”
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